An Introduction to Tai Chi
by Master Yon Lee

Contrary to popular opinion, Tai Chi is primarily a martial art. Tai Chi Chuan is one of the oldest systems of Chinese martial arts. It is characterized by fluid, evenly-defined, circular movements, which can be practiced quickly for martial applications or slowly for decreasing stress and maintaining physical health.

The system used at the club and the academy is the Yang family's long form. Of the dozens of different major systems of tai chi, the Chen, Yang and Wu systems are considered closest to the "original" form. In the first successful attempt at bringing all the systems back together as one simplified form, the Beijing government, in the 1960's, nationalized the practice and created one system called Standardized Tai Chi to contain the best techniques of all the major systems. That system is currently taught in all physical sports institutions in China. The Yang long form is the most widely taught system outside of China.

Primarily a martial art, tai chi is very effective for self-defense, but it is also a powerful weapon against disease in helping the body maintain its health and balance its internal energy. The slow and gentle motions prescribed by tai chi are extremely relaxing to do and to watch. Hence, for centuries, the elderly can be seen going through tai chi forms in the mornings, in parks all over China and in overseas Chinese enclaves. Whenever you see a movie or news broadcast of China, you would see a quiet scene of older people doing tai chi. In essence tai chi has become a Chinese symbol of relaxation and tranquillity.

But you can never be too young or too healthy to do tai chi. As it is good for your mind and body, the time to start tai chi is now!

What are the health benefits from practicing tai chi? Although there has been no published clinical study on the health benefits of tai chi, there are many anecdotes of tai chi helping people regain health and relieve stress. Those who have taken tai chi even for a very brief period, say, a few weeks, have said that tai chi helped them improve stamina, enhance self-control, maintain balance and even keep them youthful. There are instances in which tai chi has helped to control and lower blood pressure and cure heart ailments. Whatever the case, all students of tai chi agree that it is very relaxing and peaceful.

History of Tai Chi

For over 2000 years, Chinese have practiced tai chi primarily for health. In modern China, millions of people practice tai chi daily in the parks. The ancient Taoists invented this system of exercise to preserve their health, mind and body and to prevent aging. Today, to many students of the art, tai chi is practiced for fitness; but to purists, tai chi is still "played" as an exercise to cultivate physical and spiritual harmony within oneself and as a system for defending oneself from disease; or in a philosophical way, "defending oneself from oneself".

Tai Chi Chuan is one of the original systems of ancient Chinese martial arts. The graceful yet outwardly simple techniques are highly effective for self-defense. The movements are slow and fluid, evenly defined and circular, ever interchanging and ever interweaving. Each and every movement flows effortlessly from one into the next, evolving forward or backward. Similarly to the teaching of the I Ching (the Book of Changes), tai chi chuan is timeless and boundless.

Tai chi is relaxation, a meditation in motion, balance and harmony of the body and mind as one. Practiced daily, tai chi is an excellent stress management technique.

Chi Kung

Chi kung is the martial arts discipline that interfaces external training with internal development. Through chi kung students can learn to develop internal strength and mental concentration that far exceed normal physical force.

Unlike other forms of martial arts, chi kung involves the whole body, not just a particular muscle group. By involving the whole human physiology and metabolism, chi kung improves posture, circulation, respiratory, digestion, and neuromuscular function. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) chi kung is the most fundamental tool for healing. Chi kung exercises are the most advanced form of self healing. Chi kung techniques such as the "Eight Brocades", "Golden Light", "Silk Weaving", "Golden Thread", and "Hungry Horse" are designed to exercise internal organs and thus induce healing. Acupuncturists learn chi kung to transmit their energy onto the needles to manipulate the acupuncture points to unlock the vital energy or "chi". For centuries, Chinese physicians have prescribed chi kung as therapy for patients for many ailments.

In addition to strengthening the body and increasing overall physical fitness, chi kung also develops concentration and mental strength. Students of chi kung are able to relax in mentally and physically demanding situations and are therefore less prone to injuries. Practiced regularly, chi kung is an excellent stress management technique.

Martial art experts use their chi in their applications for kicks and strikes. A popular demonstration of chi kung in martial arts is the use of "Iron Palm", whereby a kung fu expert breaks a brick using his full palm effortlessly without any injury to his hand. The most powerful of all chi kung training are the "Iron Cloth" techniques. At this stage the students are trained to have conditions that are equal to the "skin of bronze and bones of iron", and to be able to take full contact attacks on the body without injuries.